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May 25, 2000


Prince Charles and Theology


Date: May 25 2000 17:38:19 EDT
From: ross@acsh.org (Gilbert Ross)
Subject: an essay on prince charles

The Prince of Darkness

Gilbert Ross MD
Medical Director, the American Council on Science and Health New York

Continuing an almost five-century old British tradition of mixing Church
and State, the Prince of Wales has again tried to reverse the tide of
scientific inquiry and exploration--a move many will equate with King
Harald's futile attempt to hold back the ocean tides 1,000 or so years ago.

In a radio address last week, Prince Charles called for a return to
spirituality as a guiding philosophy for human endeavors, with an
associated downplaying of technology and science. He warned of the dangers
of unrestrained scientific research and the perils of "tampering" with
nature. He was inspired to pen these thoughts during a recent pilgrimage
to a remote Greek monastery.

Besides calling for a restoration of the "essential unity" between the
living and the spiritual world, he attacked old bugaboos of his,
biotechnology (genetic modification, GM) and GM food. He decided to ignore
the fact that both his own government, as well as the leader of the Roman
Catholic Church, Pope John Paul ll, have come out in support of this
technology as a potential means to help alleviate malnutrition and
starvation in the developing world. The British population has taken his
warnings, as well as those of other environmental extremists, more
seriously than scientists or the American public--GM food is shunned
throughout the U.K. and many areas of Europe. But they still benefit from
drugs produced through the same methods--no one has yet called for the
removal of biopharmaceuticals such as insulin, and many other GM-drugs.

In his speech, he supported the "precautionary principle," which advocates
the elimination of any substance or technique which cannot be proven to be
absolutely safe. However, it is well known scientifically that proving
something 100% safe is often impossible, and essentially meaningless
anyway. Is driving completely safe? Are medications completely safe? Of
course not--even crossing the street can be dangerous, yet we go about our
daily activities anyway. If hundreds, or thousands, of useful products
were banned because proving them "safe" would be impossible, take years,
or be too expensive, what would replace them?

By calling "excessive" scientific rationalism an affront to "the creator,"
and stating that science should be used to "understand how nature works,
but not to change what it is," he seemed to be calling for a reversal of
all the accomplishments of mankind, dating back....who knows how far? He
assumes that there must be an inherent conflict between spirituality and
science--never mind that scientific discoveries and technical innovations
have made our lives so much better, both in quality and quantity, over the
centuries. Thanks to these discoveries, those of us in the developed world
are no longer at the whim of a fickle nature, hoping for adequate rain,
sun, etc., to eke out a subsistence living.

These benefits are, unfortunately, still not commonplace in the poor areas
of Asia and Africa. Yet "environmentalists" in well-off areas, who have
never been hungry or coaxed a crop out of an unforgiving field, try to cut
off new methods that show great promise for easing their lives. They are
against science, and seem to be against humans in favor of forests. Yet
their favorite agricultural approach, "organic" farming, is so inefficient
it would force much more forest acreage into cultivation than using modern

After reading the text of Prince Charles' speech, Dr. James Watson, Nobel
Prize winning co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, stated, "He is one of
the people who are worried that the world is moving too fast. But the
world is really rather wretched for a lot of people and science and
technology can improve their lives....We will be able to improve the
quality of food."

These miracle will occur in any event, but they will be here sooner if
science is allowed to overcome fear and superstition in high places. It is
as foolish to try to turn back the hands of time, as it is to try to
reverse the tides.

Date: May 25 2000 16:55:16 EDT
From: Phil Larkin
Subject: Theologian in the house

Andrew Apel asks:

Is there a theologian in the house? The notion that biotechnology is
"playing God" and therefore forbidden (or at least, wrong in some sense)
has constantly puzzled me. Is there scriptural or doctrinal authority which
supports such a claim?

Just in case no one else dares attempt an answer, I shall take the risk as
an amateur.
There are two principles from the Judeo-Christian tradition that strike me
as relevant to the discussion:

1. Humanity has a role in the creation to use, enjoy and care for it. This
is sometimes referred to as our stewardship of the world.

2. Only men and women are made "in God's image" and we are to imitate God,
adopt the family likeness in being loving and good especially toward each
other. That image has been flawed but is being restored. Christians say
it is being restored through the merits of Christ (his righteousness
credited to us and consequently our striving to imitate him). There is a
very real sense in which it is proper and encouraged to "play God".

3. John 1:11 "Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The
one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God."
Leviticus 19:2 " You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy" 1
Peter 1:14-16 "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former
lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the HolyOne who called
you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written,
"You shall be holy, for I am holy.""Ephesians 5:1-2 "Be imitators of God,
therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as
Christ loved us and gave himself up for us
as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." 1 Thessalonians 1:6 Paul
encouraged the persecuted Christians in Thessalonika "You became
imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering" I Peter 5:5
"clothe yourselves with humility toward one another", because this is to
imitate Jesus Christ as for example in John 13: 3-5 "You call me
`Teacher' and `Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I,
your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one
another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have
done for you.

The Judeo-Christian Scriptures call on us to be like God; to imitate him
in our dealings with the world; to act in the world in ways which imitate
his love, care, goodness and sacrifice.

Of course when people say we must not "play God", they may mean we must
not be arrogant. There is a focus in our imitation of God on actions of
humble service of others.
Philippians 2:5-8 "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ
Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature
of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance
as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a

The Bible also speaks of believers being adopted into the family of God
and being expected to grow in the family likeness. John 3:5 Jesus says
"Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."
Ephesians 1:4-5 "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world
to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be
adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ."

The Christian hope can be expressed as becoming more like God: I John 3:2
"Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet
been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is."

Andrew is right to question Prince Charles' theology. Is it also "playing
God" to breed the grasses used on the royal organic farm, fashion the
rubber tyres for the royal Rolls Royce, or prepare the slopes for the
royal skiing holiday in Austria?

It is perfectly consistent to be innovative with plant genetics to enhance
productivity and nutrition for both the developed and developing world,
provided the other principle is not broken: to be good stewards of the
world. Our innovations are essentially the copying of the best in nature.
Many of the genetic improvements on the drawing board are well targeted
for meeting production and nutrition needs while at the same time
preventing the loss of more land to cultivation and loss of biodiversity
and moving us closer to sustainability. This is an endeavour which I am
confident most theologians would be happy to endorse as a worthy imitation
of God. I suspect most religions, philosophies and world views could
endorse these
objectives. It may be that there are some modern western world views which
see salvation in nature and see mankind as a cancerous aberation. For
them a couple of billion people have to go - guess which ones.


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